In a recent order passed in Re: Cognizance for extension of limitation1 the Hon'ble Supreme Court has recalled the suo motu order dated 27 April 2021 that had granted further extension on the limitation period for filing cases in view of the second wave of Covid-19 pandemic. In this article, we briefly navigate through the background of the matter, and the order passed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court.
Due to the outbreak of Covid-19 global pandemic, the Hon'ble Supreme Court in March 2020 took suo motu cognizance of the difficulties that might be faced by litigants in filing petitions, applications, suits, appeals, and all other proceedings within the period of limitation prescribed by the general law or any special law (both central and state). On 23 March 2020, the Hon'ble Supreme Court directed extension of the period of limitation in all proceedings before the courts and tribunal including the Hon'ble Supreme Court with effect from 15 March 2020 until further orders.
Considering the normalcy being restored and reduction in prevalence of the Covid-19 virus, the Hon'ble Supreme Court on 8 March 2021 decided to withdraw the extension on limitation from 14 March 2021. Thereafter, a second wave of Covid-19 pandemic took over India in 2021 and had a debilitating effect on the nation. The Supreme Court Advocates on Record Association (SCAORA) intervened in the suo motu proceedings and sought an order for restoration of extension of period of limitation. The Apex Court acceding to the request made by SCAORA passed an order on 27 April 2021 restoring the extension of the period of limitation until further orders. In September 2021, the Election Commission of India filed an application seeking modification of the order extending limitation with respect to election petitions raising concerns on the difficulty of preserving EVMs and election papers indefinitely. The Apex Court on 9 September 2021 held that it would consider recalling the suo motu order with respect to all cases, and not just the election petitions.
Order of the Hon'ble Supreme Court
In spite of all the uncertainties pertaining to a third wave of the Covid-19 virus, the Hon'ble Supreme Court held that it was imminent that the order dated 8 March 2021 was restored as the situation was near normal. Therefore, the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India disposed of the matter with the following directions:
- In computing the period of limitation for any suit, appeal, application or proceeding, the period from 15.03.2020 till 02.10.2021 shall stand excluded. Consequently, the balance period of limitation remaining as on 15.03.2021, if any, shall become available with effect from 03.10.2021.
- In cases where the limitation would have expired during the period between 15.03.2020 till 02.10.2021, notwithstanding the actual balance period of limitation remaining, all persons shall have a limitation period of 90 days from 03.10.2021. In the event the actual balance period of limitation remaining, with effect from 03.10.2021, is greater than 90 days, that longer period shall apply.
- The period from 15.03.2020 till 02.10.2021 shall also stand excluded in computing the periods prescribed under Sections 23 (4) and 29A of the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, Section 12A of the Commercial Courts Act, 2015 and provisos (b) and (c) of Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881 and any other laws, which prescribe period(s) of limitation for instituting proceedings, outer limits (within which the court or tribunal can condone delay) and termination of proceedings.
- The Government of India shall amend the guidelines for containment zones, to state.
"Regulated movement will be allowed for medical emergencies, provision of essential goods and services, and other necessary functions, such as, time bound applications, including for legal purposes, and educational and job-related requirements."
While significant uncertainty revolves around the next wave of the pandemic, India is slowly treading towards a near normal situation. In these circumstances, the withdrawal of the extension of limitation was much needed. The extension of limitation for a prolonged timeline brought with it the threat of causing docket explosion across the already overburdened courts and tribunals of India. The Hon'ble Supreme Court has rightly balanced the uncertainty over another wave of pandemic with the potential flooding of the courts and tribunals with post pandemic litigation.
1. Re: Cognizance for extension of limitation, Miscellaneous Application No. 665 of 2021 in SMW(C) No. 3 of 2020.
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